WRITTEN BY: ALEX RICHWAGEN
Daytona Beach is located on the east coast of Florida, about 1.5 hours east of Orlando, and is home to millions of tourists visiting every year. In general the beaches are very crowded on most weekends with all those travelers joining local residents to keep the beach full. The beach itself is quite a draw for most, but it’s not the only reason folks travel to the east coast of Florida. There’s also the Daytona 500, International Bike Week, and of course, Spring Break.
Daytona Beach was once hailed as the place to be for Spring Break every year. MTV used to shoot film there every year to put on television to capitalize on young spring breakers fleeing colleges nationwide for some fun in the sun. There were numerous clubs and hotels that were made infamous by the party Spring Break atmosphere, but the Spring Break scene grew tiresome on the local residents calling Daytona Beach their home. After years of resident complaints, the city finally listened, and cleaned up the area to rid of the Spring Break party atmosphere. Daytona Beach is still a very sought after destination for beachcombers after the city’s rigorous efforts to change the perception. There is now a famous boardwalk area in the center of Daytona Beach filled with restaurants, shops, and is much more family friendly. Now that the Spring Break theme has reduced, the city can focus on its most prized possession, the Daytona 500 that runs annually for NASCAR.
Daytona Beach is mostly famously known for the Daytona 500 that runs every February in the beginning of the race season at the Daytona International Speedway. This event is an absolute must-see for any race fan, especially NASCAR race fans. The whole event is one of those events that you must go and see live at least once in your life because of all the festivities and surroundings – the people, the ridiculously loud sound from the cars, and the whole speedway is a spectacle by itself (the racetrack is huge!). The actual race involves NASCAR drivers that must complete 500 miles at nearly 200 mph speeds, and takes about 4-5 hours to run the race on a single day.
People really do go all out for this event as the center of the track is filled with campers, Winnebago’s, and tons of tailgating that lasts for days. If you wanted to make a long vacation out of it, like most do, be sure to visit DaytonaUSA, as it pays tribute to the history of NASCAR and the Daytona 500. The DaytonaUSA features galleries of historic Daytona 500 events, tours, and plenty of memorabilia for keepsakes. Each and every year, the stadium routinely is updated with additional attractions, race artifacts, and upgrades (check out their raceway stadium suites here). Recently, they added the ability to even take a drive around the track (it’s called the Richard Petty Driving Experience) that is beyond cool. The costs start at $169 for six laps, and escalate depending what car you want to drive or add laps to the experience. I would highly recommend to experience the test drive around the track and taking a DaytonaUSA tour at the very least in order to really soak in the Daytona 500 atmosphere to learn as much as you can.
Daytona Beach is also just as famous for is called “Bike Week” held annually during the end of February and into early March. Bike Week is held every year all over the Daytona Beach area where literally there will be tens of thousands of Harley Motorcycles rolling up and down the streets for two weeks to many “different” events”. Bike Week doesn’t stay contained in just Daytona, its visiting patrons extend all the way to Orlando and Tampa. This happens to accommodate the visitors in hotels because there’s just too many people in Daytona at once. This means if you are trying to get a room near Daytona and it doesn’t happen, don’t panic.
Among other things you’ll find in Bike Week is the never ending stretch of concession stands filled with fair-type food (hot dogs, burgers, funnel cakes), merchandise vendors (that will sell you anything with Bike Week on it), and of course the sounds of motorcycles everywhere. The Bike Week events consists of things to see and do like “girls coleslaw wrestling” at the Cabbage Patch Bar located at 549 Tomoka Farms Road in Samsula, FL. It’s similar to mud wrestling, but using coleslaw instead to wrestle around in the ring. Trust me, it’s a really fun experience all by itself.
Another similar event to Bike Week is Biketoberfest that has all the same workings as Bike Week. The biggest difference is the time of the year as Biketoberfest is held annually towards the last 1-2 weekends of October. In order to blend in with the locals, put yourself on Main Street, where you can find an array of events, sites, and bars to explore. Some of the bars I’d recommend –
· Dirty Harry’s – This spot is a great place to start or end as the location is right in the middle of Main Street and featuring a lineup of bikes outside the bar. Inside the bar, they feature a daily “Wet T-Shirt” contest for those 18+, free pool tables, poker tournaments, Karaoke on weekends, and a daily Happy Hour during the week, 11-7 p.m. It’s very much a “biker’s bar”, just so you know what you are getting yourself into.
· Iron Horse Saloon – The Iron Horse Saloon is another traditional “biker’s bar” located just outside of Daytona in Ormond Beach. The Saloon features live music, cornhole contests, bike shows, and a “Moonshine Campground”. The campground serves as a rest area for those road warriors during the events and is only $15.00 per person. There’s showers, bathrooms, concessions, and plenty of drink stations.
· West Coast & Orange County Choppers – These spots put choppers are on the map with their now-famous TV shows. Both places feature custom made choppers that are both for looking and for sale. It’s a great way to spend ½ day to explore, learn, and maybe even buy something on the lots.
The beach at Daytona Beach itself is still one of the last places in Florida that folks can actually still drive and park on the actual beach. It’s something that’s been constantly in the news because of the safety concerns regarding people walking around the beach. Despite the concerns, it is still legal to drive on the beach itself. The restrictions have grown considerably over the past few years about parking, driving slow, and having less cars in general. If you don’t prefer to park on the beach, there are several side lots to park for around $10 per car and Daytona has several public access points to easily locate.
Ok, back to the beach. The sand quality is average in comparison to other beaches in Florida like Clearwater Beach on the west coast or even West Palm Beach on the east coast of Florida. The sand itself tends to be firmer with an abundance of shells in and out of the ocean. The water is a darker than other water further down the coast, leaving only to the imagination what lies underneath. I’ve never had a bad experience there, but I just prefer beaches where I can see feet and their surroundings when walking around in the ocean.
The beach area itself is usually covered with cars and some food trucks scattered around. The food trucks usually stock common snack foods like burgers, fries, hot dogs, and sodas. At those same food trucks, they usually have plenty of water games to rent for play like surfboards, boogie boards, kites, footballs, and paddle ball games. Basically, it has everything needed to keep your kids entertained for the day. I would recommend stopping by a Publix Supermarket and grabbing some subs in a cooler before heading out there. There are some restaurants right there on the beach, but like I said, it might be a lot easier to just grab subs beforehand and go somewhere afterwards.
For those who might like a bit more action with the rush of competition, there’s the newly renovated Daytona Beach Kennel Club. The term “Kennel Club” insinuates exactly what you think, it’s a dog track to watch race and place your bets. The setup is ok at best and could be improved with improved comfortable seating and additional waitresses to grab food or drinks. Most locals go there to play poker (Texas Hold ’em specifically) on most days with high hand payouts for those playing a lot. The dealers are always super friendly that makes you feel right at east as we all know places that don’t offer any type of hospitality. Make sure to visit on Mondays where it’s $1 Special Night (hot dogs, soda, coffee, popcorn & ice cream sandwiches). Check out all their promotions here.
Where to stay? I would recommend staying at one of the following three locations. The Hilton on Daytona Beach, the Daytona Beach Regency, and the Wyndham Ocean Walk. All three are extremely close to the Ocean Walk above any other hotels for the most convenience above any other hotel. The location is great being right in the middle of anything needed like restaurants (breakfast like IHOP 2 blocks away, pizza right across the street), a liquor store across the street, Walgreens is very close, and of course it’s on the beach. All three hotels have a fantastic pool setups, but I would give the nod to the Daytona Beach Regency as far as the entire pool setup and luxury. The Wyndham has an indoor movie theatre would could be incredibly good for parents with children and a nice tiki bar by the ocean for cocktails at any hour (Mai Thai’s).
Daytona Beach just has a little something for everyone with the beach, the Daytona 500, Bike Week, and plenty of areas to explore. If you would like to add to the article or feel like I missed your favorite spot, please feel free to leave it in the comments section so others can see too. I’m always willing to learn a new spot or ideas when it comes to Daytona Beach.